A Wednesday night in February and they’re playing music outside. But it’s San Diego and I’m wearing my Brooks Brothers overcoat watching the music at Panama 66. It’s the cool, historically correct name they gave to an open-sky courtyard adjacent to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Kids who were students of Gilbert Castellanos played first. One of them was a little guy who looked like he was 12. He WAS 12. He wore a dark suit and tie as he played an upright bass that was bigger than him. A singer in a minidress did scat and a 16-year-old blond kid who was 6-foot-4 played a drum solo that was so musical it knocked me out.

Gilbert Castellanos and his band at Panama 66.

Gilbert Castellanos and his band at Panama 66.

The adults took the stage later as Gilbert blew solos on the trumpet like Freddy Hubbard. A bar was serving beer and wine. It was a real jazz club full of elegant women and everybody was there.

They knew I was a journalist and I got business cards from people who ran a TED lecture series, the International Academy of Jazz and Martinis Above Fourth, a club. A programmer for the San Diego Symphony told me why a concert hall was the perfect place to hear jazz.

When I was a kid I thought jazz musicians were like gods for what they could do with their instruments.  I still think they define what it is to be hip. Because hip is not something merely fashionable. It’s the nexus of classy and crazy… of virtuosity and spontaneity. It’s knowing that you are hearing true art but it’s nothing strange and exotic it’s just a natural expression of the love of art. And you can dance to it.

I walked away through the halls of the Balboa Park Prado as the music was still playing and I was feeling young. I will always be a frustrated artist and it was good to be reminded of that. Back to Panama 66. The Panama part refers to the Panama-California Exposition that gave birth to Balboa Park. But where do they get 66?


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